Whether ready for a league championship run or not, the MasterCard Memorial Cup host is expected to load up for an extended playoff push. And this year’s Red Deer Rebels were no exception.
General Manager and Head Coach Brent Sutter made some big moves throughout the year, and, while not the biggest acquisition at the time, the trade for 20 year old Adam Helewka has provided the most immediate help. The Burnaby, BC native had 45 points (26 goals, 19 assists) in 34 regular season games with the Rebels and added 18 points in 17 playoff games.
“I expect him to be a good player for us,” said Sutter prior to the Rebels tournament-opening game against the London Knights.
“He has to be a guy that produces and plays the game the right way. I think Adam, where his game suffers, is when he tries to play too much east-west and not enough north-south hockey, and his game struggles a little bit. But when he plays the right way and he’s moving his feet and he’s very intense and going, he’s a tough player to shut down.”
Red Deer acquired Boston Bruins 2015 first round pick Jake DeBrusk on Dec. 27th. Known as one of the league’s premier goal scorers (he had 42 tallies last season in Swift Current), the Rebels could have been excused if they didn’t add anyone else to their forward core. But it is a good thing they targeted Helewka, who was acquired on Jan. 1st.
Conner Bleackley (ARI), a fourth-year Rebel who has a combined 183 points in 259 games, was injured later in January and missed the final six weeks of the regular season. Upon returning, Bleackley was injured in the final game of the regular season and missed the entire playoffs. Sutter doesn’t anticipate him returning for the Memorial Cup either.
“He just started practising with us last Friday; he’s not where he needs to be (and) right now I’m not holding out hope that he’s going to be able to play,” said the veteran bench boss.
His absence makes Helewka’s contribution to the team all the more important. And the Rebels gave up a considerable amount to acquire the power forward, shipping off their captain Wyatt Johnson, a prospect, and two draft picks in the deal.
Helewka, who played 210 regular season games for Spokane, was a bit surprised when he heard about the trade.
“It was tough a bit emotionally at first leaving my billets I’ve lived with every year, the coaching staff, the trainers and all the guys I’ve been with on the road,” he said. “But when I found out it was Red Deer, obviously I was pretty pumped. Not many kids get this opportunity to do this as a 20 year old.”
It wasn’t the first time the goal-scoring winger had been surprised with the ways of the hockey world. A late bloomer, Helewka went undrafted in his first year of eligibility after his rookie season with the Spokane Chiefs in 2012-13, and he was again passed over in the draft the following year despite recording 50 points in 62 games.
The NHL Draft wasn’t on his mind heading into the 2014-15 season. And even after leading the Chiefs in scoring with 87 points (44 goals and 43 assists) in 69 games, Helewka still had little expectation for the draft. Players heading into their CHL overage season generally aren’t taken in the draft.
So it was a shock when the San Jose Sharks took him in the fourth round of last June’s draft.
“Honestly I was a little surprised I got drafted. I thought maybe I would go to a camp and try to make a name for myself, but once I got drafted that was really good for me,” Helewka explained.
So instead of trying to earn a contract on an NHL camp invite, Helewka found himself starting the 2015-16 with the San Jose Barracuda, the Sharks’ AHL affiliate. He played three games with the team in October before he was sent back to Spokane to play his overage season.
“That was great to get a taste of it, get a little bit of experience before I have to move on to pro next year,” he said. “It’s a big difference, guys are just bigger, faster, stronger, smarter; everything is just one step up from junior.”
The demotion wasn’t a slight on Helewka, but if history is any indicator, he will be a key player for the Barracuda next season and perhaps playing with the Sharks sooner rather than later.
Helewka went undrafted in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft; in fact he didn’t even play Midget AAA hockey, instead playing Minor Midget with the Vancouver NW Giants in 2011-12. The following year Helewka jumped right into the WHL, making Spokane as a roster invitee. Three years later, after being slighted in the NHL Draft twice, his dream was realized.
“You want to make sure you’re getting better every year and I think that’s what I did and that helped me over my 19 year old year when I had kind of a breakout year.”
Obviously, the Sharks organization was impressed with his continued development this season, signing the 6-foot-2, 200-pound winger to an entry-level contract in March.
“It’s kind of a weight off the shoulders,” Helewka said. “Now it’s just about worrying about developing and playing and giving them a reason, showing them why they signed me to a contract.”
And he’ll be doing so on junior hockey’s biggest stage: the Memorial Cup.
Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7